Inmates crack phone PIN codes
Emails reveal Connecticut prisoners made hundreds of unauthorized, untracked calls
State inmates were able to access “test” PIN codes to make hundreds, and possibly thousands, of untracked phone calls over three months starting late last year, according to emails obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media.
The codes were likely either stolen while technicians from Securus Technologies, the contracted inmate phone provider, performed maintenance on the system or by making repeated random dials, said Securus Account Manager Jimbo Powers on Tuesday.
“They were the test PINs our technicians use,” Powers said. “The inmates either were looking over someone’s shoulder or randomly dialing.” A PIN is a personalized identification number that was needed to make the calls.
The unauthorized calls likely allowed inmates access to more phone time than is usually allotted, Powers said.
State Department of Correction monitors authorized calls made by inmates to make sure they are calling people on their approved list, including defense attorneys. In some cases, the recorded calls are gleaned for information that is turned over to prosecutors who are adjudicating cases involving particular inmates.
So far, four inmates have been identified as using the test PINs, said Karen Martucci, spokeswoman for the DOC. Each will face discipline which could include restrictive housing and loss of privileges. They admitted to trying numbers randomly until one worked, she said.
No prison employees will be disciplined, said Martucci. She said it is not the job of correction officers to monitor inmate phone calls.
Emails between Powers and corrections officials indicated that at least 500 were made with two PIN codes used by the company’s technicians to test the inmate phone system from last Dec. 1 to Feb. 14, when Securus was contacted about the breach.
The emails were turned over to Hearst as part of a Freedom of Information request. The state recently extended its contract with Securus for two more years. The company has managed the state's inmate phone service since 2011.
DOC officials demanded on Feb. 14 that the Texas-based contractor conduct an immediate investigation after raising concerns that the untracked calls, which possibly ran into the thousands, were allowing inmates contact with their victims, said Capt. Domenick Pisano with the DOC’s Security Division.
“It is our duty to protect the public to include the attempt to cease the contact of suspects communicating with their victims,” Pisano said in an email to Powers. “As a result, our administration is demanding that Securus conduct a full investigation into this breach and the findings reported to me immediately.”
The breach was discovered in mid-February when a member of the DOC’s Intelligence Unit found a call made with a PIN code that wasn’t assigned to an inmate, Martucci said. She believed the calls were social in nature and all were recorded. A check of the calls made with the test PINs revealed no security concerns, she said.
The company is still working on determining how many and which inmates made the calls, she said.
In all, more than 20 test PIN codes were identified and deleted as part of the investigation, according to the emails. But Powers said Tuesday he believes only two of the codes were used by inmates.
When asked if any of the calls were made to crime victims, Powers said, “hopefully not.”
The test PINs were used by inmates at several facilities, the emails said. The top two test PIN codes used generated at least 500 calls from Dec. 1 to Feb. 14, Pisano told Powers.
The codes were deactivated as part of the investigation, Powers said. New steps have been taken to ensure inmates don’t acquire test PIN codes again, he added.
The DOC currently houses about 13,000 inmates at 20 corrections facilities. Inmates who have phone call accounts are assigned a PIN code which is deactivated when they are released from prison, Powers said.
All phone calls except certain ones made to defense attorneys come with a charge, Power said. The phone calls made with the test PINs were not free, he added.
A PIN code is given to each inmate who has a phone account, Martucci said. Inmates are allowed to call only approved numbers on their list, which is tied to the pin code. The test PIN codes allowed the inmates to call people not on their approved calling list, she said.
A review of the calls made with the test pins did not reveal any requests to bring contraband into the prison, witness tampering or contact with victims, she added.
Going forward all test PINs will be deactivated immediately after use, Powers told DOC officials.
“We will also perform periodic reviews of the account lists to assure the process is being followed,” he said.
Connecticut inmates made unauthorized calls using test PIN numbers over a three-month period, state emails reveal.